As protesters prepared to take to the streets of Baltimore for a 17th night Monday, President Barack Obama was in New York City, launching an initiative intended to provide grants for disadvantaged black and Hispanic youths and assistance for troubled communities across the United States. Obama said at the launch of his My Brother’s Keeper Alliance -- a nonprofit spinoff of the government-backed effort he created last year -- that he would continue to work on issues of race and income inequality after he leaves office.
While the president pointed out some of the success stories from his own White House-run initiative of the same name, and talked at length about the unrest in Baltimore, his speech was primarily a discussion of the overall lack of opportunities for men of color.
“Life chances” for young men of color are worse than for their peers “by almost any measure,” Obama said. “And that sense of unfairness, of powerlessness of people not hearing their voices, that’s helped fuel some of the protests that we’ve seen in Baltimore and Ferguson [Missouri] and right here in New York."
Obama used the event to expound on comments he made last week after Baltimore rioting over the death of Freddie Gray, who authorities say died one week after suffering a spinal injury following his April 12 arrest. While Obama condemned the looting and violence by a “handful of criminals and thugs,” he also said that “troubling questions” had been raised by encounters between black citizens and police.
The new initiative, which will be led by Joe Echevarria, former CEO of the Deloitte financial firm, has already attracted more than $80 million in commitments from companies like News Corp., Deloitte, American Express and Discovery Communications. Echevarria’s advisory group will include singer John Legend, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, former basketball star Shaquille O’Neal and others. Top executives from PepsiCo, Sprint and Prudential Group Insurance also will participate.
During the speech, Obama hinted at what he might do when he leaves office in January 2017. Echoing the words of White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Friday, Obama said that the issues of race and inequality would “remain a mission not just for the rest of my presidency, but for the rest of my life.”
He added: “The reason is simple. We see ourselves in these young men. I grew up without a dad. ... The only difference between me and my young men was that I grew up in an environment that was a little more forgiving. ... I was lucky.”